i commented on this on the site but i didn't say half of what i have to say about this.
like i said in my comment, i used to refrain from commenting (publicly, i sure said shitloads about them behind closed doors!) on others' reviews. that was when i was reviewer.
i last reviewed a game over a year ago, and i'm more or less done with that, at least for right now. i actually think i'm talented at it, so maybe it's a shame, but that's as may be.
this review is such a collossal piece of shit, and thinking about why it's such a piece of shit and pondering the potential reaction to that reaction (i.e. "if you take street fighter 4 seriously you are a DUMB NERDFACE"; judging from the comments, i'm not far wrong) is really guiding me.
there are so many levels on which this review sucks.
1. the intro.
game writing begets terrible intros. do you know why? good intros are hard to write. lord, are they ever. this one is particularly bad though because it takes the really sloppy "what's happening in the world today?" approach, becuase ideas were not apparent, and then lazily segues into talking about the game. there are two outcomes to this intro tactic: 1. you say what you would have said otherwise (this is what happened here.) 2. you say something about the game you never would have. it sucks either way.
plus, street fighter "maturing"? the fuck are you talking about?
2. the intended audience problem
audience problems are major issues for game reviewers. i've struggled with this a great deal, and at varied publications with varied implied audiences, and i think writing for a site like AV club makes it even more confusing than, say, gamespot. i don't know what their writers' guide says about their audience (trust me, something about it will be in there) but it probably isn't enough.
clearly, jones is writing toward a "not a hardcore gamer but might be interested in street fighter" type audience; but assuming more is probably too much. on the web, content is self-selecting (people who clicked on this review are interested in the subject material.) he oversimplifies his review to an absurd extent by saying "all of the street fighter games are the same". anyone with a mild clue could tell the difference between SF2, SF3, and SF4. isn't that why SF4 is largely lauded as a return to form for the general audience? isn't the point of hiring a professional to review that they will understand distinctions that the audience will not, and figure out how to communicate the relevant ones to said audience? (i guess the reply here is that he decided there are no relevant distinctions between any two street fighter games, to which i say: bullshit.)
i think that jones has mistaken the superficial audience catering "only nerds could like this game! not my cool audience!" with actual meaningful audience catering.
how could this be done? i dunno, let's try 1. explaining that while this game relies heavily on nuance that the nuance can be teased out if you do become more enthused with the game. don't music reviews often say that there are untold pleasures waiting in repeat listens? isn't that a virtue? 2. explaining that it's the kind of game you can sit on the couch with your friends and enjoy nostalgically yet authentically (i.e. that's the intent of the game and it has been realized -- it brings back those SF2 memories but in a fresh way.) 3. explaining that while it's ridiculous and exaggerated, that it's an intentional stylistic choice, and debating why that choice was made and what relevance it has to the experience. cos it's fucking cool dude.
so, that's off the top of my head.
3. ellipses reveal hilarious discrepancy
this is a fun game to play with shitty writing.
"Make no mistake, Street Fighter IV is a superb fighting game... Except for Street Fighter completists, Street Fighter IV merits, at best, an afternoon rental."
does this mean that fighting games are a genre that are best left to afternoon rentals for all but the most dedicated? that the genre is capable of no more?
does this mean that superb = B-?
it's just ridiculous. i don't think he actually intends to say any of what i just implied; i don't think there's a lot of intention beyond filing a story and making a deadline. beer money!
4. despite actual opinion of reviewer, caves to pressure to score the game as it "should" be scored
coming on from the above questions, it's obvious that jones doesn't give a fuck about this game, finds the people who do give a fuck about this game tedious (note: fans of things you are not fans of are incredibly tedious. the internet has proven this beyond a doubt. this goes for street fighter, animal collective, transformers, and david sedaris more or less equally. see what i did there?)
but game reviewing is, as its critics will tell you, often about consensus. this consensus often confounds people who like a particular unpopular game a lot and then write a big screed about how ALL REVIEWERS R DUM (gabe from penny arcade comes to mind here.) so what does the lazy, disinterested reviewer do? hew to consensus.
the funny thing is that i can absolutely see a legitimate B- for this audience; they just may not enjoy the game like the fans, it's clear. but this review is ass-backwards.
5. the film and music critique vs. the game critique
so, the AV club. it has a (deserved) reputation for good solid reviews. would the editor of the AV club accept a record review that purports to intentionally not understand the album that was being reviewed, as though it were somehow doing the job more effectively? would AV club publish a review of a film that doesn't seek to understand what the film is about, and doesn't plug it into the wider cultural context at all? "brokeback mountain? who cares about gay cowboys but fags? B-!"
irony: AV club published at least three articles on the king of kong, which sought to understand the film and its context in greater depth. that's because it's about the people, not the game. wilful lack of understanding about games themselves is tacitly approved. i think this sort of thing is a better reason for game designers to bitch about "games as art" than most others. the barest level of respect would be nice, yeah?
6. reviewing product, reviewing software, reviewing media
this is a broader problem, but it's one that's raised by a commentor on the site, so i feel like addressing it in a small way. game reviews, particularly mainstream ones, struggle with this a lot.
what is a game review? games cost $60, so somehow they get beyond the $10 CD/movie ticket window of "experiential" reviewing into the "product review" category. this is why IGN reviews are formulaic rundowns of features.
why is it easy to formulaically run down the features of a game? because games, beyond creative media, are software, and software development is systemic and driven by features. a review of word processing software examines the features in the software and sees if they work as advertised, and if they're useful to the end user. this is not that far from (the bulk of the text of) IGN review.
but games are media, and that hard-to-describe feeling associated with them is why we love them so much; how they make us feel. this is harder to write about, particularly when you have easier crutches (it usually goes in the outro in a highly formulaic review.)
in the middle we have poor scott jones, who's trying to write a media review of a software product, and his emotional feeling is (obviously) "ugh". the game bores him so much he doesn't even feel like trying to figure out why it's any good (that much is obvious.) he hates the fans, who talk about its nuance and finer qualities, because he can't see it. but he's aware that the game ticks the feature boxes because capcom has been slamming down very effective PR for the title for more than a year now. so what is he left to do?
write a pile of shit like this, stick a B- on it, and then file it.
and so the cycle continues...